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取於天然 更勝天然 From Nature to Nanotech

发布日期:2022-05-25 11:31
取於天然 更勝天然
黃得勝借鏡自然打造未來物料
和其他工程師一樣,黃得勝的職責是為人類世界的問題尋求解決方法;特別的是,他的靈感來自大自然這本無字天書。他仿效豬籠草利用滑溜籠口捕獵昆蟲的原理,發明出極抗黏的仿生物塗層SLIPS,並藉此於2014年入選美國MIT Technology Review三十五歲以下科技先鋒之列。這項發明被稱頌為「當今最引人入勝、極具應用潛力的新型物料」,而它的起源則發生在十七年前的中大工程學院。
2000年,黃得勝剛考上大學,在修李文榮教授的基礎電子課程時,他邂逅了納米科技。「在最後一課,李教授給我們展示多張用電子顯微鏡拍攝的大特寫,教我大為震撼;其中一張可見到一隻螞蟻,拿着個比它身軀還要小的精緻齒輪。對於如此精微的器件製作,我深感好奇,下課後就草擬了一份微型飛行機械人製作計劃書,然後電郵給李教授。」
這位勤奮用功、志向遠大的學生隨即贏得李教授的青睞,不久獲薦參與研究實驗。「本科生加入實驗團隊的情況十分罕見,更何況我當時還是一名新生。現在回想起來,我也詫異李教授怎麼放心我不會把先進研究設備弄壞。」黃得勝半開玩笑道。
畢業後,他選擇負笈千里以外的加州大學洛杉磯分校攻讀博士學位,師從李教授曾經師從的博士生導師何志明教授。「我素來景仰李教授的教學作風。能夠踵武恩師,以他的導師為導師,實在是我的福分。」
在加州大學將近完成學業時,黃得勝開始對借鏡自然界以解決技術難題的仿生學產生興趣。「我領略到大自然原來是納米技術大師。從壁虎牢牢抓住牆壁的腳掌,到出淤泥而不染的荷花,自然界利用微納米結構發揮特殊功能的生物比比皆是。這也成了我博士論文的主題。」
2010年,他遷居波士頓,到哈佛大學Wyss生物啟發工程研究所工作。一年以後,在其博士後導師Joanna Aizenberg指導下,研發出抗黏物料SLIPS。一如其植物界的藍本豬籠草,SLIPS能排斥任何種類的液體,包括油、水和血液,甚至連細菌和海洋甲殼類生物都無法黏附其上。
SLIPS由注滿潤滑液的納米結構基質組成。潤滑液靠基質鎖定,形成穩定而不黏的表膜。黃得勝以水漂現象比喻SLIPS的運作原理:「雨天在濕滑路面開車,車輪被薄薄一層水托起,隔離地面,因而失去摩擦力,車子就會在水面打滑。」
兼具自動復原功能的SLIPS,耐用程度比其自然界藍本有過之而無不及。「當有物件撞擊液體時,會在液體表面造成凹陷;但移去撞擊物後,液體會自動填滿凹陷處而恢復原狀。由於SLIPS的表面是液體,所以會產生同一反應。」他解釋道。
這種嶄新材料的用途不勝枚舉:既可用於為醫療裝置和人造器官鍍膜,減低細菌感染風險;又可用於覆蓋船身以防止海洋甲殼類生物黏附;還能用於防止飛機外殼結冰,提升飛行安全與航班準時度。從外行人的角度看,若將這種新穎材料應用在日用品包裝上,日後要倒出最後一滴茄汁或擠出最後一點牙膏,再也不費吹灰之力。
黃得勝現任賓夕法尼亞州立大學機械工程系助理教授,兼自然啟發工程實驗室主管。他希望利用自然啟發科技應對二十一世紀部分重大挑戰,尤其在水資源可持續發展方面。他與團隊正在研發抗黏馬桶,只需極少水就能沖洗乾淨;還有超級水冷凝器,能從空氣中輕易收集淨水。
他指出,即使近至十五年前,納米科技除了用於生產集成電路外,普遍被視為難以應用。「但我持相反看法。自然界每天都在用納米科技解決複雜問題,種種生存策略經過了數十億年實地測試的洗禮。對於人類面對的多方挑戰,大自然其實蘊藏着許多成熟的解決方案。納米科技讓人類得以複製進化智慧,化超能力為容易事。」


From Nature to Nanotech

Wong Tak-sing imitates nature to give flesh to the future

Wong Tak-sing is an engineer who takes a leaf out of nature’s book when looking for solutions to human problems. In 2014, he was named by MIT Technology Review as one of the top innovators under the age of 35 with the invention of Slippery Liquid-Infused Porous Surfaces (SLIPS), a liquid-repellent coating modelled after the carnivorous pitcher plant that uses its slippery leaves to capture prey. The invention, hailed as ‘one of today’s most intriguing and potentially useful new materials’, had its genesis 17 years earlier in the Faculty of Engineering of CUHK.
In 2000, when Tak-sing was still a freshman, he came across nanotechnology in the Basic Electronics course taught by Prof. Li Wen-jung. ‘On the last day of class, Professor Li showed us a range of close-up photos taken under an electron microscope. They totally blew me away. One of them had an ant holding on to a delicate gear that was even smaller than the bug itself. I was immensely intrigued by the idea of creating devices that tiny. After class I drafted a proposal on how I intended to make a micro-scale flying robot, and e-mailed it to Professor Li.’
The professor immediately took a shine to this assiduous and aspiring student, and soon introduced him to laboratory research. ‘It was rare for an undergraduate, and even rarer for a freshman, to get into a research group. In retrospect, I wonder why Professor Li would trust me in not messing up any of his state-of-the-art research equipment,’ said Tak-sing, half-jokingly.
Upon graduation, he chose to move thousands of miles from home to earn a doctorate at UCLA under the supervision of Prof. Ho Chih-ming who was once the PhD advisor of Li. ‘I had always been looking up to Professor Li and admiring his style of mentorship. It was really fortunate that I could follow in his footsteps and learn from my mentor’s mentor,’ said Tak-sing.
By the end of his studies at UCLA, Tak-sing started to take an interest in biomimicry—a discipline that looks to nature for clues in solving technical conundrums. ‘I came to realize that nature is a master of nanotechnology. From the sticky toes of a gecko to the water-repellent leaves of a lotus leaf, many creatures in the natural world utilize micro- and nanostructures to perform special functions, and that became the topic of my PhD thesis.’
In 2010, Tak-sing moved to Boston to work at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. A year later, under the guidance of his postdoctoral adviser Joanna Aizenberg, he developed the non-stick surface SLIPS. Just like its sibling in the plant world—the pitcher plant that lures unsuspecting ants into its cupped leaves too slippery to escape from—SLIPS repel any type of liquid, from oil to water to blood, and prevent organisms like bacteria and barnacles from sticking.
SLIPS consist of nanostructured substrates infused with lubricating fluid. The lubricant is locked in place by the substrates and forms a stable, frictionless layer. Tak-sing compared the repellent process of SLIPS to hydroplaning. ‘In a rainy day when you drive on a wet road, the tyre is separated from the road surface by a thin film of water and loses traction, sending your car skidding along the water surface.’
In terms of durability, SLIPS coating even outperforms its natural counterparts due to its self-healing attribute. ‘When an object impacts a liquid, an indent is made on the liquid surface. But once the object is removed, the fluid nature of the water allows it to refill the space that was occupied. Since SLIPS are coated in liquid, they react similarly,’ explained Tak-sing.
The range of possible applications for the novel material is endless: it could be used to coat medical devices such as implants to decrease the potential for bacterial contamination, cover the hull of a ship to prevent barnacles from adhering to the surface, and keep aircrafts free of ice to enhance safety and on-time performance. In layman’s terms, we may all cheer when we can liberate the very last dollop of ketchup out of the bottle, or the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube, without sore fingers.
Now an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at The Pennsylvania State University where he heads the Laboratory for Nature Inspired Engineering, Tak-sing hopes to use nature-inspired technologies to address some of the grand challenges in the 21st century, particularly in water sustainability. It involves, for example, developing non-sticky toilet bowls that require very little water to flush, as well as creating super water-condenser to collect clean water from thin air.
He pointed out that as recently as 15 years ago, nanotechnology was considered hardly applicable except, for example, the manufacturing of integrated circuit. ‘But I saw it differently. The natural world is using nanotechnology on a daily basis to solve complex problems, and the strategies have stood billions of years of field-testing. Nature is full of ready solutions to many of the challenges we encounter. Nanotechnology gives us tools to replicate the evolutionary wisdom and make superhuman powers not so superhuman.’
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